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Atrial fibrillation: What you need to know

Everyone’s heart changes pace throughout the day in response to the body's needs. The heart speeds up during physical exercise to provide more blood to working muscles. It slows down during sleep, when the body is at rest. These normal changes help the heart serve the body more effectively.

A heartbeat is coordinated by electrical impulses. In some cases, the electrical impulses don’t work properly, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. This irregular heartbeat is called an arrhythmia.

The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, or AFib. AFib is an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots forming within the heart’s walls. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart, the atria, beat chaotically or not out of sync with the lower chambers. This chaotic or arrhythmic beating of the atria does not allow the chamber to fully empty, causing the “leftover” blood to fall stagnant and form clots. The arrhythmic beating and the clot formation together increase the change of stroke, heart failure, and many other heart-related problems.

If your doctor confirms that you have AFib, you may be prescribed medication to help prevent blood clots. Other possible treatments include:

  • Medication to slow your heart rate or help restore a normal heart rhythm
  • A pacemaker to regulate heart rhythm
  • Electrical cardioversion, a procedure in which an electric shock is used to restore the heart's rhythm
  • Surgery to disrupt the electrical signals that lead to AFib
  • Radiofrequency ablation, a procedure done to destroy tissue that triggers abnormal electrical signals or to block abnormal electrical pathways

Dr. Imdad Ahmed, board certified cardiac electrophysiologist, serves as the Medical Director of Mercyhealth Arrhythmia Center. The center provides comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of arrhythmias. It offers innovative procedures and devices, including the world’s smallest pacemaker and devices to prevent stroke from AFib.